Lorrie Viola brings 'L.A.' to Michigan
by Susan Bairley
In 1983, Lorrie Viola was a new Michigan State University graduate in landscape architecture who landed her first job assisting with golf course design and site work at William Newcomb & Associates in Ann Arbor. Within five months of starting there, however, her resourceful initiative and obvious talents, put her on a fast track among some of golf's best-known architects and now, eight years later, with a cadre of international course-design credits to her name, she is owner of her own golf course design and development firm, L.A. Links Inc. in West Bloomfield.
Viola's career got a jump start when she went to the World Series of Golf at Firestone Country Club in Akron. There she met Jack Nicklaus' wife, Barbara, with whom she chattered briefly about career opportunities and shared her resume. Soon after, she was offered a position working on the grounds of the Nicklaus estate in North Palm Beach, Fla.
"It was like a daily one-on-one with Jack at his house," Viola said. "I saw him every morning, so it was better than starting in the office where I probably wouldn't have seen him at all, and I got to know him on a personal level."
Six months later, Viola moved into the Nicklaus Design offices where she worked under the company architects on The Loxahatchee Club in Jupiter, Fla., and the Cayman-golf Britannia course in the Cayman Islands.
When a corporate financial crunch at Nicklaus Design eliminated her position, Viola took a job with George and Jim Fazio Designers in Juno, Fla., where she worked on St. Lucie West and Hawk's Nest , also in Florida. One year later, she joined Gary Player Design Co., which focused her attention on Pacific Club in San Clemente, Calif, and Orlando's Alaqua. A year later, she joined Karl Litten Inc., where she worked for almost four years and did design, coordination and/or field supervision for such projects as The Emirates in the United Arab Emirates, Leek Wootton in Warwick, England, and Provo Golf Club in Provo, a city in the Turks and Caicos Islands of the British West Indies.
The international projects offered Viola some interesting, if not frustrating challenges. For example, while she visited course sites in Asia and Europe, she didn't participate in site visits at The Emirates course in Dubai, UAE, because of her gender. "At that time (because of cultural mores), they just thought it was best not to send me over there, which was unfortunate because it was a great project."
The Provo Golf Club project presented an extreme environmental challenge. "There wasn't any water," Viola said, noting that all drinking and residential water on the island is ocean water that's processed through a desalination plant to make it usable for drinking and irrigation. "Of course, our client was the owner of the water plant, otherwise they couldn't afford to build it! However, we were allowed only about one- quarter of the amount of water that we'd typically use in that climate. In other words, if you would use 800,000 gallons of water per day on a Florida course, here we were only given 200,000 gallons per day. So we built a desert course with more target-style grassing areas; we had 38 acres of grass as opposed the 80 or 90 acres you'd more typically find."
Add equipment delivery and maintenance problems, a construction crew that didn't speak English and 'island time,' which Viola describes as work a little -- rest quite often, and the Provo project certainly remains one of her most memorable in terms of challenges.
In 1991, hoping to travel less and be closer to home and family, Viola thought Arthur Hills' Toledo-based business and others might provide some consulting opportunities, so she and her husband moved back to Michigan and she incorporated as L.A. Links -- 'L.A.' for landscape architecture and her first and middle initials.
In her new company, she's consulted with Art Hills, worked on several out-of-state projects, including Jolly Harbor in Antigua, West Indies, and Boca Woods in Florida, and most recently, with last year's opening of The Timbers in Tuscola near Frankenmuth, she earned the distinction of being the first woman with her own company to be the course architect for a Michigan golf course.
Although she did some work, while employed by Karl Litten, on the EMU Eagle Crest Club (formerly Huron Golf Club) in Ypsilanti, The Timbers was Viola's first start- to-finish Michigan project. As such, it's a golf course project that's especially dear to her.
"The Timbers was the most exciting (of my golf projects) just because I was involved in every aspect of it. It's a beautiful Michigan course, and it's nice to be back here, plus the whole group that we worked with was just a great group," she said.
Current L.A. Links projects include a third nine at Pine Knob Golf Course in Clarkston, two courses in Ocala, Fla., a nine-hole addition at a Connecticut course, a renovation at Burning Tree in Mt.Clemens and a collaboration with Karl Litten on a New Jersey project.
Having just built a new house in West Bloomfield, Viola said L.A. Links won't be going elsewhere anytime soon. "I'm always open to projects anywhere else," she said, "as long as I don't have to live there very long!"
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